Brit Pop

The British are known as being a rather reserved bunch. We like tea and roast beef. We enjoy reading the newspapers on Sunday and moaning about the weather. We applaud stiff upper lips and not making a fuss. We love our dogs, and we regard them as important family members. Mostly though, we like them to cause us minimum embarrassment in social circles. In practice, this means saying hello politely to other dogs in the park, playing nicely when we have time (but not if we don’t) and being calm and sensible when visitors arrive at the house. Without wishing to make it sound as if we are all suffering from some form of insidious national neurosis, being British means enjoying a semblance of gentle control.

Enter the ‘puppy party’. A chance to have fun, frolics and meet new and interesting characters… so far out of the average person’s comfort zone that perhaps it’s remarkable anyone comes at all! Puppy parties run through veterinary practices have become more and more popular in the UK over the last few years, and the premise behind them is a good one: puppies get a chance to become familiar with the surgery that they are held in, and mix with other pups, while their owners get a chance to find out about the care and health of their pup (and socialise a little themselves!).

Given a controlled, structured plan, a good ratio of staff to clients and a knowledgeable team offering training as well as socialisation, they can be a wonderful experience – offering pups and owners the best start possible. However, all parties run the risk of getting a little out of hand, and this is where problems can occur for the future of our hapless hounds. No one would consider that a group of seven-year-old kids could be put into a room together and be allowed to simply run amok unsupervised for an hour without getting into trouble! The same is true for puppies. Well run, a good puppy party can build confidence, establish the basics of training, and prevent behaviour problems. Badly run, puppy parties can cause and exacerbate behavioural problems. Puppy parties vary a great deal in content and structure. Track down a good one and you’ll be glad forever – but take the responsibility seriously – after all, most parents would do their homework before sending their child to playgroup or nursery – the same should be true for proud new owners.

Before you commit your precious puppy to attending a puppy party, check on these essentials first:

There aren’t too many puppies and people for the space available
This one is crucial. In a worst-case scenario, a puppy that is already fearful may find himself cornered and choose to use a defensive display to get rid of the ‘threat’ – certainly not a strategy that any puppy should be learning at this vulnerable stage of development.

Handling is considerate
Ironically, while ‘pass the puppy’ may be one of the best-known features of puppy parties, it may also may be the most potentially problematic. Pups may be a little anxious at their first time in a puppy party situation, and are not yet used to being handled by their owner – let alone a roomful of strangers. Gently does it here, so that confidence is gradually built.

It’s not a free-for-all!
Is the vet’s surgery the place to have a wild, out-of-control romp with other dogs? Ironically, most owners want the opposite from their dog when it’s an adult – they want him or her to be quiet, calm and confident in the waiting room – not looking for another dog to jump on! Play is important, but it should be well matched, well supervised and well structured, with plenty of owner involvement.